Friday, October 19, 2012

Written on the Wind

A distraught man drinking while driving. A woman in bed with a man who's not her husband standing by the window. A man with a gun in his hand staggering out of a mansion before collapsing. These images are withing the opening moments of Douglas Sirk's Written on the Wind, a melee that could only be found in a melodrama.

There are stories behind these people. Mitch Wayne (Rock Hudson) and Kyle Hadley (Robert Stack) are longtime friends. Lucy Moore (Lauren Bacall) is the woman Kyle marries and Mitch desires. Marylee (Dorothy Malone) is Kyle's sister and lusts (strong emphasis on "lusts") for Mitch. This is something only Sirk could have gotten away with.

There is also an interesting comparison between Kyle and Marylee. He is quiet and reserved while she is lively and very outgoing. Their sex lives are also quite different. Hers borders on the line of nymphomania. As for poor Kyle? Well, let's just say he's lacking he's lacking in that area. (Oh, and Marylee also taunts him for his lack of masculinity.) It's amazing that they're even related.

The actors are pretty good. Hudson, Bacall and Stack get the most out of their roles, even though they slip into stock character territory at times. But it's Malone who's the best of the quartet. She gives Marylee auras of a femme fatale. Play by her rules or prepare to be destroyed. That's her credo. Don't argue with it.

Written on the Wind goes through many soap opera cliches, but Sirk and cinematographer Russell Metty make them appear fresh and new. The actors, Malone especially, are quite good. Sirk may have set the benchmark for melodramas, but I don't think anyone could top him.

My Rating: ****1/2

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